Musicians, Protect Your Ears

I didn’t — and now I have the tinnitus to show for it

Clive Thompson
8 min readSep 22


A photo of the members of the band Lipstick Driver: On the left, a woman playing the drums; in the middle, a woman playing the bass; on the right, the author playing an electric guitar
This is my current band, which is EXTREMELY LOUD and has given me tinnitus, egad. Oh hey, if you’re in NYC we’re playing Rockwood Music Hall Sept. 28 2023, 10 pm!

It was last summer — June of 2022 — when I first heard the high-pitched ringing.

I was lying in bed, trying to sleep. I’d spent about half an hour reading a book to chill myself out, and I could feel myself drifting off, when I realized: Huh. Where’s that sound coming from?

It was a soft, high-up whine. I wondered for a second if it were some malfunction in a nearby fan or air conditioner, or even a car on the Brooklyn street outside.

But nope: The call was coming from inside the house. I pretty quickly realized it was the internal squeal of tinnitus — one’s ear generating noise that only you can hear.

At first, I shrugged, figuring it was one of those temporary noises that can suddenly arise in one’s ears, seemingly unprovoked, and which quickly subsides.

But this one didn’t go away. As I lay there, it kept on whining, like a synthesizer stuck on a single note. I eventually fell asleep, figuring whatever was wrong with my ear would fix itself overnight.

It didn’t. In the morning the high-pitched whine was still there, and I was figuring that I had probably given myself a case of tinnitus.

Alas, there was no great mystery as to how this had happened.

Professionally, I’m a journalist. On the side, though, I’ve been playing in bands ever since I was 17. There was the high-school 80s pop band; several college-era hard-rock cover bands to make extra dough; a lot of busking on the streets of Toronto; countless gigs as a harmonica player for blues bands; then an album and a half with a folk-rock outfit, and two with the Delorean Sisters, a country/bluegrass band I’ve played in for the last twelve years.

In March of 2020, the Delorean Sisters were getting ready for a slate of spring gigs and summer tour for our second album, when COVID hit. It mothballed all those plans; our regular rehearsals ground to a halt.

After vaccinations came along, though, I resumed weekly songwriting sessions with Betty Wiles, my songwriting partner in the Delorean Sisters.



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.